One type of sexually transmitted disease is Hepatitis B. This form of hepatitis can be transmitted to non-infected persons in a number of ways and in some cases hepatitis B can result in serious liver damage if left untreated. Hepatitis B symptoms are easily misdiagnosed, meaning that people often do not get the proper hepatitis b treatment they need.
What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a general term that refers to the inflammation of the liver. Liver inflammation can occur due to infection, an immune system disorder, exposure to alcohol, certain medications and toxins.
The liver has an important function in the body as it filters toxins, stores energy for future use, and produces substances which help to fight disease and control bleeding. While the liver has excellent self-healing properties, these only function when the liver itself is not infected.
Hepatitis B is the most common serious liver infection in the world.
Hepatitis B Transmission
Hepatitis B is caused by infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Hepatitis B is a blood-borne virus, meaning that it is transmitted through the blood of an infected person to a non-infected person.
The virus is transmitted through semen and saliva, which contain small traces of blood and which carry the HBV virus. Infection can occur when these substances come into contact with the broken skin or mucus membrane (mouth, rectum or genital organs) of a non-infected person.
In some cases, the transmission source is unknown.
Stages of Hepatitis B Infection
Hepatitis B infection has two phases:
- acute (new/short-term). This stage of hepatitis B occurs shortly after exposure to the hepatitis B virus. A small minority of individuals with acute hepatitis B develop a severe type of acute hepatitis B known as fulminant hepatitis, which is potentially fatal.
- chronic (ongoing/long-term). Chronic hepatitis B occurs when the HBV infection lasts longer than 6 months. Once an individual develops chronic hepatitis B, there is the possibility that it will never completely go away. Only 5 to 10% of infected adults develop chronic hepatitis B; the remaining 90 to 95% of people are able to fight the virus so that it never develops into a chronic one. People with chronic HBV infection are known as "chronic carriers", two-thirds of which do not become ill or die from the disease. However, these individuals can transmit the disease to others. The remaining one-third develop chronic hepatitis B which can lead to serious liver disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B symptoms generally develop within 30 to 180 days of exposure. However, these symptoms are often mistaken for flu symptoms, which they closely resemble. Common hepatitis B symptoms include:
- loss of appetite
- nausea and/or vomiting
- pale stool that is grayish or yellow in color
- dark-colored urine that is coffee or tea-like in color
- pain over the liver (on the right hand side of the abdomen, under the lower ribcage)
- jaundice (a condition which causes the skin and the whites of the eyes to turn yellow in appearance)
Diagnosis of hepatitis B generally involves a blood test; this test determines whether the individual has been exposed to hepatitis viruses or other viruses.
If the individual has experienced extensive vomiting, the individual’s blood electrolytes (which are essential for normal cell and organ functioning) are tested in order to verify whether the blood chemistry is indeed balanced.
Acute hepatitis B typically goes away by itself and therefore does not generally require medical treatment. When they are particularly severe, symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting may require medication and in some cases hospital care in order to restore fluids and electrolytes.
There is currently no medication available to prevent acute hepatitis B from developing into chronic hepatitis B. Antiviral agents can be successful in treating chronic hepatitis B; however, they are not always effective. Decisions regarding treatment are discussed between the infected individual and a health care provider following liver function tests, HBV DNA tests and in many cases, liver biopsies.
Individuals who have chronic hepatitis B should visit their health care provider on a regular basis.
There is no surgery available to treat hepatitis B; however, if a liver transplant is an option for you, this possibility will be discussed between you and your health care provider.
There is no cure for hepatitis B.
Who is At Risk for Hepatitis B?
Individuals who are at higher risk for contracting Hepatitis B are:
- individuals with other STDs
- individuals with multiple sex partners, particularly when condoms are not used
- infants born to infected mothers
- individuals who undergo dialysis for kidney disease
- individuals who have sexual intercourse with a person infected with hepatitis B
- men who have sexual intercourse with other men
Hepatitis B Prevention
There is currently a vaccine that is safe and that has been proven to be effective in preventing infection in people exposed to hepatitis B. This vaccine is administered in 3 doses and over a period of several months.
Hepatitis B is a largely preventable disease. There are a number of ways in which you can reduce your chances of getting hepatitis B:
- practice safe sex
- do not share needles
- do not share personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes
If you are pregnant and are concerned about hepatitis B, you should speak with your health care provider.
Hepatitis B can lead to liver disease, cirrhosis, and acute liver failure. Acute liver failure occurs when the functions of the liver completely shut down and can only be treated by a liver transplant.
In addition, hepatitis B can lead to other types of hepatitis, including hepatitis D.